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Skyrim released just over two years ago. Since then, the modding community has taken it by storm. Boris Vorontsov, creator of the ENB series and the perpetual holder of the Huge G Award, showed us that the engine is capable of far, far more than what was allowed on the PC release. The image above is just one example among many of what is possible right now. And if this is possible today, what does the future hold? What can be done? More importantly, what should be done?

PC First

Bethesda, Todd Howard, Pete Hines – I implore you. Please develop The Elder Scrolls VI on PC first as the lead SKU. I’m not a developer by any means, but I would like to think my rudimentary understanding of these platforms allows me to make such a request.

Unlike the last gen, the Xbox One, PS4, and PC all share the same architecture. No longer will you be required to code for three inherently different architectures. I imagine that this fact alone must make several developers happy. Because of this, I would think it makes sense to develop for the most powerful platform first and then “scale down” to fit on the consoles. I imagine it must be easier to “cut” things out for consoles than “glue” features on for the PC.

Since all three platforms share the same architecture, building for the most powerful platform first will allow you to take full advantage of that system, and then scale down to fit on the console version. This way, we won’t have to mod in DX11 capabilities through brute force. All of this will be built into the game from the ground up, allowing us to make even crazier mods. This can only spur creativity and will no doubt win you legions of more PC fans if you prioritize the PC.

As a huge fan, I’m not alone in begging you to develop the next game on the PC first. Please.

Scale

First, we must understand something fundamental about both new consoles and especially the PC. Each one of these platforms have multiple gigabytes (GB) of memory dedicated to graphics. On the PC, this is known as VRAM. The consoles, on the other hand, have what is known as “unified memory”, that is, one pool of memory shared for system and graphics operations. For video games, memory size is extremely important. It dictates texture resolution, computational resources, and scale, among other things.

Keeping this in mind, the opportunity to create a truly massive world is now entirely within the realm of possibility (it’s been possible on PC for years but shh). As large as Skyrim is, my mind can’t help but wonder, “what if it was bigger?” Having a larger pool of memory allows this scale to be realized. Bethesda could create a world that is twice as large as Skyrim. Games like The Witcher 3 are paving the way, showcasing a world that is 35% larger than Skyrim.

Some might say that this might break lore (Valenwood is smaller than Skyrim, for example). To you I say this. Why wouldn’t you want a larger world? Video games are defined by rules created by developers. Bethesda could easily create a truly massive province.

With this scale comes detail. Of course, things like clutter become hugely important, but so too do details like intricate carvings on furniture, individual blades of hay on roofs, insects flitting around the air, fish swimming in rivers, wildlife going about their daily routines, grass disappearing and regrowing due to animal grazing.

All of this is possible with the technology today. This is not out of the realm of possibility. Bethesda did so many things right with Skyrim, but just imagine what could be done – and what should be done – with new power.

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Lighting

Right now, engines like CryEngine and Frostbite use a technique called global illumination (GI). In fact, many of you may have heard me tout the affects of GI, and for good reason. In short, GI is a set of algorithms used to compute the realistic behavior of light. It takes into account light emitting directly from a source (direct lighting) as well as that same light reflecting off of different surfaces (indirect lighting).

ENB approximates this behavior via brute force ambient occlusion and image based lighting. While the results are extremely realistic and beautiful to behold, this method nevertheless taxes the system due to the brute force nature of its implementation.

Modern engines utilize both methods (and more) from the onset, providing gorgeous GI behavior. The next Elder Scrolls must include such GI implementation, and quite frankly, it can do so given the technology at hand.

Within the GI solution, Bethesda could include something called volumetric lighting, or known to you and me as god rays. However, unlike the god rays in ENB, which are a simple post process, true god rays take into account the volume of their environment. Meaning, rays would not pass cleanly through fog. Rather, they would be distorted and clouded as they physically (and accurately) react with the fog particles, obscured from visibility. For example, games like Battlefield 4 and Crysis 3 implement such a technique.

All of this leads to…

Environment

Given the the power and resources of both new consoles and the PC, the environment in The Elder Scrolls VI should look fantastic. A dynamic, interactive environment could lead to some incredible immersion. For example, let’s say I require wood to craft a bow. I could chop wood at a chopping block, but if I’m in the middle of a forest, chances are a chopping block isn’t nearby. However, I could pull out my axe and chop a nearby tree. The trunk would chip away as it would in reality and soon enough, fall down where I can gather the wood. Now, after some time, that tree can grow back.

This type of interaction with the environment would go a long way to convince you of the world’s authenticity. Full object tessellation and parallax occlusion mapping coupled with physically accurate shaders could be used on the rocks, roads, buildings, etc to further drive home that believability. Destruction could be added to buildings (akin to the tree cutting example above). This could create for some truly memorable and epic battles as you fight to save Tamriel.

Of course, tying back with the lighting above, full physically accurate volumetric particles could help aid the reality of a forest at dawn, for example, or a battleground. Imagine the immersion. All of this could be wrapped neatly in a fully dynamic weather system, featuring reactive vegetation. Meaning, as it rains and the wind blows, the vegetation will react to the weather in a physically accurate way. One such example is Assassin’s Creed IV.

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Characters

Take a look at the image above. You might notice her more realistic character model (mod) and a different hairstyle (another mod). What you may not notice instantly, yet are subconsciously aware of, is just how realistic her skin looks. Yet again, this is done through ENB. The technique used here is called subsurface scattering (SSS). SSS is a physical mechanism of light when it enters a translucent material (skin), is “bounced” through interacting with that material, and then finally exits that material. A prime example of this is when you hold your hand up to the sun. You’ll notice the skin between your fingers is slightly pink compared to the rest of your hand. That’s all because of SSS.

Truth be told, this technology exists today and should be easily implemented in the next Elder Scrolls title. Couple SSS with character tessellation (smoothing the ears to make them curved instead of polygonal, for example) and deep facial skinning (adding muscles, physically accurate skin onto the face), and you’re well on your way to creating more believable looking character models.

On top of just prettier characters, the extra horsepower in the consoles and PCs can lead to some serious innovation for AI. Why not take Radiant AI from Oblivion and expand on it? Give each NPC its own brain, dynamically reacting to not only the player, but to the world, and other NPCs. If it’s raining outside, they should put on cloaks or head indoors. All of these little things combined could create some truly remarkable experiences when engaging with the various characters of Tamriel.

Flair

Finally, after all else is implemented, we arrive at the flair. This includes a suite of post processing, such as Bokeh depth of field (notice the in-focus Breton and out-of-focus mountain in the image above), full object and camera blur, and even some antialiasing solutions.

Now ideally, The Elder Scrolls VI would implement full supersampling antialiasing (SSAA). Effectively, the image is rendered to a ratio proportionate to your output resolution then downscaled to fit on your display providing full elimination of “jaggies”. Seeing as this is incredibly costly (today), I would hope that a deferred solution is used.

Basically, this is room for the developers to put the icing on the cake. Post processing allows for that final touch of makeup to be applied before the player sees it. Intelligent use of this can be accomplished with the new machines to great effect.

. . .

In conclusion, there are a lot of things that can be accomplished on a technical level…today. Yes, everything listed above can be achieved right now. Meaning, this should be the absolute minimum suite of features to be included in Elder Scrolls VI. We must remember, however, that this game isn’t even announced yet, nevermind have a release date.

My mind cannot help but wonder what amazing visual feats Bethesda has in store for our next adventure in Tamriel. These next few years will prove telling. Can this be accomplished? Absolutely. Should this be accomplished? Without question. But perhaps the most intriguing question is, what more can be done?

That is something I am genuinely looking forward to.

Avatar of Shank
Editor for Quest Gaming Network and Co-Host of Elder Scrolls off the Record and Totally Heroes. Shank loves massive open-world Western RPG's. He is known to wander aimlessly for hours and generally ignores quests. While he also likes First Person Shooters, he sucks pretty bad at them. His first priority in any game he plays is graphics - an importance which he will argue to the death. Follow him on Twitter @ShankThTank

16 Responses to “Elder Scrolls On Next Gen” Subscribe

  1. Auroness February 6, 2014 at 9:58 am #
    Avatar of Auroness

    While I do appreciate your devotion to graphics, and your knowledge about the capabilities of the hardware, I have to disagree with you. If a game uses technology to perfection, skillfully uses the talents of graphic artists, and implements wonderful lighting, that doesn’t guarantee it is an enjoyable game. It will be really pretty, but how much fun will it be? I would be willing to trade away Global Lighting, if it meant richer dialogue options with NPCs. What is the point of SSS, if the game has limited quest lines? There are limitations to memory, and I would prefer seeing more immersive game play mechanics than watching the ambient reflections off of a lake.

    I play on a console and I still play Oblivion, because it is a great game. I didn’t throw it out when Skyrim and it’s improved graphics came along.

    It will come down to a compromise. It always does. Make the game look great on consoles first, and then enhance the the PC or let modders fiddle with graphics on their own. Making a good game that looks great for everyone and leaving the enhancements for later is a better business decision. Remember, for Skyrim, only 14% of the sales was the PC version.

    • Shank February 6, 2014 at 10:06 am #
      Avatar of Shank

      I appreciate your comment. This article is my thoughts on what these new machines can bring from a purely technical standpoint. That’s why I don’t discuss any questing mechanisms, inventory systems, story, etc. That’s not to say I don’t think these elements are important – they most definitely are. They are just not the focus of this editorial.

      • Auroness February 6, 2014 at 11:53 am #
        Avatar of Auroness

        I do agree that the technical aspects of the new systems are much better than current ones, and the ability to code games for all platforms is going to be much easier with similar architecture. However, I take issue with your statement “scale down to fit on the console ”

        As I said in my comment, PC sales only accounted for 14%. Why should the much larger console market have a scaled down version of the game? It may be semantics, but the implication is gamers on consoles should settle for less, just because they didn’t buy a PC. If the architecture is similar, why are we talking about one system being better than another? PC gamers are constantly explaining that they have the superior system. Let developers upgrade for the PC, instead of downgrading the console.

        • Mrwhitepantz February 6, 2014 at 3:29 pm #
          Avatar of Mrwhitepantz

          The issue isn’t that console gamers have to “settle” for a scaled down version of the game, it’s that the consoles simply cannot perform at the same level as a decent gaming pc. Whether you scale up to computer or down for console, the effect is the same; the game will look better and react more smoothly on the pc.

          So yes, from a techical standpoint, it does make sense to start on the more powerful machine, because it is easier to, for example, take a 1080p image and make it 720p, than it is to do the reverse because the data simply isn’t there in the 720. Similar rules apply to other aspects of development.

          The architecture simply refers to the way the code interacts with the hardware of the machine istelf, not the overall capability of the machine.

  2. Shank February 6, 2014 at 12:22 pm #
    Avatar of Shank

    “Scale down” in this sense means this, as example: for ambient occlusion, the consoles would use a smaller sample radius and sample size compared to the PCs that have more power. The consoles would still receive ambient occlusion, but it wouldn’t be as technically complex as a high end PC.

    I never said one platform is better. I want the next game to take advantage of the extra power a PC has. Building a game from the ground up to maximize the potential of the more powerful platform will allow the game to really shine. The fact that all three platforms have similar architecture should allow this to happen. This will ultimately benefit consoles as well because. By pushing the game as hard as it can on a high end PC, it will show just how far they game can go. This will in turn make the console experience that much better.

    This isn’t me being biased. It’s a simple fact that high end pcs today are more powerful than consoles. If you develop first on the least powerful machine, innovation becomes stagnant. By their nature, consoles are static pieces of hardware. On PCs, the boundaries can constantly be pushed as they keep expanding. By constantly pushing boundaries, these new innovations will be translated down to the consoles. It’s a good thing because everyone benefits.

    You see this with games releasing now. Watch Dogs is being developed with the PC as lead platform, and so is Witcher 3, and AC4. All of these games look and run great on the consoles too, because of the innovation done on the PC. Everyone wins

    • Auroness February 6, 2014 at 1:10 pm #
      Avatar of Auroness

      But everyone doesn’t win. If games are are developed with the PC as lead SKU, your high-end PC gets the best graphics. My console game will never look that good, no matter how far the technology is driven by innovation.

      • Shank February 6, 2014 at 1:28 pm #
        Avatar of Shank

        I see where your worry lies, and I can assure you that it’s not the case. There is some truth to it, however, in that console versions (more often than not) will not look as good as the PC version (on ultra settings), but this is simply due to the fact that console hardware doesn’t change year to year. It is outdated in 6-12 months due to newer chips etc released. More often than not, the simple truth is that if you have a high end PC, you will have a visually superior experience.

        But this isn’t a bad thing.

        Perfect example of this is Crysis 3. This game released on PCs, Xbox 360, and PS3. The game was developed on PC as the lead platform. It pushes high end PCs to their limit and looks amazing. However, because of this, it also pushed the 360 and PS3. In my opinion, it’s simply the best looking game – both visually and in terms of technical innovation – on those consoles.

        It was because of the optimizations and boundary pushing tech that was done on the PC that the game looks amazing on all 3 platforms.

        If you don’t target PC as the lead platform, then you are not maximizing all that extra power on hand. It’s like driving a 600 horsepower Lamborghini at 30mph. A total waste. You’ll only be optimizing on consoles. An entire player base suffers. If you have more powerful hardware, the game SHOULD look and run better, not be held back.

        However, targetting PCs as the lead platform allows the developer to not only maximize the extra power in the PC, but optimize the console version as well. All three platforms are pushed to their max and the results are amazing. Crysis 3 and Battlefied 4 are proof of this.

        Hope this helps.

      • Mrwhitepantz February 6, 2014 at 3:37 pm #
        Avatar of Mrwhitepantz

        You’re looking at this from the wrong angle. You don’t “lose” if the pc version looks better than the console version, because the console has a limit on how good it can look that isn’t present in the pc.

        The game will either:

        Look as good as possible on the console, and the same on the pc, which doesn’t take it to the full potential of the pc,

        OR

        The game uses the full potential of the pc, and looks as good as possible on the console.

        So you’re not losing because the console can only go so far anyways.

        • Auroness February 6, 2014 at 6:06 pm #
          Avatar of Auroness

          So you are saying, that “for the good of the game”,
          console users must suffer with second rate work? Why can’t developers push the very envelope for consoles and make them the best they can be, before they work on PCs? Most development cycles add complexity as they go, so it won’t be an issue for them to learn and explore on the the console and then improve the PC.

          We may not get ultra-high-quality because of technical limitations, but at least let us play the game earlier. Console players already have to wait months for most games because the focus is on PCs. They get the great looking games, which makes for better advertising, and PC players are the loudest in any gaming forum. It doesn’t help, when Microsoft pays off developers to push Xbox titles with exclusive early starts, leaving PS owners to wait even longer.

  3. shootyoureyeout February 6, 2014 at 12:23 pm #
    Avatar of shootyoureyeout

    Wait…….IS THAT YOUR ESO PRE-ORDER?!?!?! Hooray!

  4. Emily February 6, 2014 at 1:09 pm #

    I don’t think the graphics are the strongest factor for a great game I think its story, why play a game that has nothing to do, even if its the most beautiful game in the world. I want something to keep me in the game.

    • shootyoureyeout February 6, 2014 at 4:01 pm #
      Avatar of shootyoureyeout

      Totally agree with you, Emily. I played Dragon Age Origins for the first time in the last year. Even though the graphics are pretty outdated now, the storyline was so developed and enthralling that it will always be one of the best games in my book, and felt as realistic as a current game, if not moreso. Alternatively, Tomb Raider was absolutely GORGEOUS graphically, but the story was kind of lackluster, so it took me out of the game completely (well, that and the horrible QTE’s, haha). Story has EVERYTHING to do with games’ quality in my opinion. BUT I think a near-perfect game has to have both …..aka. Skyrim =)

  5. Luiz Costa February 6, 2014 at 1:09 pm #

    I totally agree with you, I expect awesome looking and immersive game form TESVI.

    But, the shock came at the end. Did you actually changed your mind and bought ESO?

    • Kyrielle February 6, 2014 at 5:46 pm #
      Avatar of Kyrielle

      Total surprise out of nowhere here as well. I look forward to what he has to say about the matter on tonight’s show. :D

  6. Bamzach6 February 6, 2014 at 1:29 pm #

    Finally Shank has come to! Remember Shank if you dont like it stop playing, no harm no foul

  7. Progavarium February 7, 2014 at 4:20 pm #

    He would have got canned from QGN if he didnt get it. That’s obviously the reason.

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